A stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel has killed and injured dozens of attendees on April 29, the national emergency service Magen David Adom (MDA) confirmed.
According to MDA, 103 people have been injured, including 44 in critical condition, at the annual Lag B’Omer Festival at the foot of Mount Meron attended by tens of thousands of people despite COVID-19 warnings from health officials.
MDA also reported that dozens have died without specifying a number.
Local media put the death toll at 38.
“MDA is fighting for the lives of dozens wounded, and will not give up until the last victim is evacuated,” the emergency service stated on Twitter.
MDA also said that six helicopters have been deployed to evacuate the victims to hospitals.
Local media had earlier reported that a grandstand at the site collapsed, but MDA said that the injuries were a result of a stampede.
According to police sources cited by local newspaper Haaretz, the stampede started after some attendees slipped on some steps, which caused more to fall.
Dov Maisel, vice president of operations for volunteer emergency services United Hatzalah, said in a video posted on Twitter that people had been “literally crushed to death,” describing it as “one of Israel’s worst disasters.”
The event was the first religious gathering of its kind to be held legally since Israel lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions, becoming the country’s largest public gathering during the pandemic.
Authorities reportedly had authorized 10,000 people to gather at the Galilee tomb of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the festival.
However, organizers said over 650 buses brought 30,000 people to the site.
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